Teenagers face a lot of pressures and with so much transition and change in their lives, it isn’t always easy to know what the difference is between teenage growing pains and depression.
The key is knowing that teen depression goes beyond moodiness and the typical spouts of rage. It’s a serious health problem that impacts a teens life and development. As we have become more familiar with this condition, resources are at your finger tips and you can get help.
If you are parent who is concern for their teen, know that depression is treatable and you can get help for your child. In this article, we will give you the tools necessary to recognize and help your teen work through depression.
What is Depression
Most people feel sad from time to time and it’s a normal reaction to loss or life's struggles but when that sadness intensifies, it can result in drastic feelings of helpless, hopeless, and worthlessness which can lasts for many days to weeks, keeping victims from living their lives.
This is depression.
Depression is a common and serious medical illness that can negatively affect how an individual feels, the way they think and how they act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function in many aspects of their life.
Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression can strike at any time, but on average, it first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. Although we have all felt depressed at one point in our lives there is a big difference between depression and grief.
If you are wondering what the difference is, in the next section we will help you understand the difference between the two to better understand your child’s situation.
Depression and Grief: Is There A Difference?
The death of a loved one, transitions from schools or ending relationships are difficult experiences for any person to cope with. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such situations.
Those experiencing this kind of loss often might describe themselves as being “depressed.”
But being sad is not the same as having depression.
The grieving process is unique to each individual but it also shares some of the same features of depression which makes recognition tough. Both grief and depression may involve intense sadness and withdrawal from usual activities but there are also glaring differences:
1. Sadness, despair, mourning
2. Fatigue or low energy
4. Loss of appetite
5. Poor sleep
6. Poor concentration
7. Happy and sad memories
8. Mild feelings of guilt
After some time, these feelings subside as life returns to normal and feelings return to equilibrium. Grief shares many of these above symptoms with depression but there are significant symptoms that differentiate:
2. Exaggerated guilt
3. Suicidal thoughts
4. Low self-esteem
8. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
9. Exaggerated fatigue
Despite some overlap between grief and depression, they are different. Distinguishing between them can help teens get the help and support they need. If you are wondering if your teen is depressed or going through a grief process let’s take a look at the signs of depression in the next section.
Is My Teen Depressed?
The teen years can be extremely tough and depression affects teenagers more than we realize. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five adolescents will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. While depression is something that can be managed and treated, most teens do not receive the help they actually need.
If left unnoticed or untreated teenage depression can go beyond just the teenage blues. Depression can destroy the essence of your teen’s personality, causing them to stagnate and have extreme feelings that can become destructive, even deadly.
To be ahead of the curve, and to understand if your teen needs help, the following are some the ways in which teens “act out” in an attempt to cope with their feelings and signs of depression. When you can recognize these signs, you are closer to being able to help your teen.
Problems at School: Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties which can lead to dropping grades, attendance or behavior.
Running Away: Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help.
Substance Abuse: Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression.
Low self-esteem: Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
Technology Addiction: Teens may go online to escape their problems, but excessive smartphone and Internet use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed.
Reckless Behavior: Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, binge drinking, and unsafe sex.
Signs of Teen Depression
Sadness or hopelessness
Irritability, anger, or hostility
Tearfulness or frequent crying
Withdrawal from loved ones
Loss of interest in activities
Poor school performance
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
Thoughts of death or suicide
Although these are signs of depression, if left unchecked, there is a possibility for these feelings and thoughts to worsen into more serious conditions.
Seriously depressed teens, especially those who also abuse alcohol or drugs, often think about, speak of, or make attempts at suicide—and an alarming and increasing number are successful. So it’s vital that you take any suicidal thoughts or behaviors very seriously.
They’re a cry for help from your teen.
To learn more about suicide see our article here.
How To Help A Depressed Teenager
Depression is very damaging so it is important that you address any concerns you might have. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Below are some tips on how you can communicate and help your depressed teen:
Focus on Just Listening
Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Don’t give up if they shut you out. These feelings are complex and many teens who are struggling need to feel safe and accepted before they can open up. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Validate Their Feelings
Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Listen To Your Intuition
There is nothing like parent intuition so make use of it here. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts and enlist some extra help. If your teen won’t open up to you, think about asking a trusted third party who they might want to talk to. This can be a friend, a church leader, a coach, a counselor, a teacher etc.
Encourage Social Connection
Depressed teens will typically turn inward and withdraw from activities they used to love and from their friends/family. Isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect. Look for ways that your teen can connect with the community, loving friends and family as well as religious groups (if that is an option)
Encourage them to go out and interact.
Make Quality Time Priority
What a teen really needs is time so be sure to set aside time to talk with your teen daily. The simple act of connecting, having no distractions and spending time can really reduce the symptoms your teen might be feeling.
Talk about things other than the depression and feelings. By taking the focus off the stresses you allow your teen to see the other sides of life and can make all the difference in their recovery.
Limit Screen Time
Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down. Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms as it creates an atmosphere of isolation.
If you want to help your teen, limit their screen time and allow them to experience life outside of a screen.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
A teen can have supportive friends and family but sometimes, that is not always enough. When depression is severe, you might need to enlist the help of mental health professionals.Important things to do in getting professional help include:
Involve your child in treatment choices
Explore all options
Consider medications and talk to your teen about them
Although you know that help is in the hands of professionals, it is important to include your teen in the program process. By showing them that you appreciate their opinions and are listening to them, it can help them feel included and validated towards their own healing.
If medication is an option, always understand that medications come with risks.